Maryknoll Memoirs – A Work in Progress

If you’ve ever looked through the Biographies section on our website, you may have noticed that not all bios are equal. Some paint detailed portraits of the person’s life and mission work while others are more like a thumbnail sketch, leaving ample room for questions about the gaps. (See Father Thomas A. Barry, MM for a particularly short example.)

We don’t update or change these biographies because they are record transcriptions created by Maryknollers following an individual’s death. They have historic significance, even if they don’t tell the full story. When the Archives received a request about Fr. Thomas Barry’s life, the hard work and research used to recreate his life evolved into a blog post. It was written to celebrate his life and make his story more accessible to the public. This project evolved into the Maryknoll Memoirs series.

Maryknoll Memoirs:

1. Fr. Thomas A. Barry: Life and Legacy in Japan

2. Maryknoll Memoirs: Fr. John J. Massoth

This series celebrates the lives of Maryknoll missioners whose biographies simply do not do them justice. Today, we celebrate the life of Sr. Marianna Akashi. Her work as a Japanese teacher was critical to the Sisters’ missions along the West Coast.

Satellite image of Hokkaido, Japan from May 2001
Trappist monastery, Hakodate, Japan, ca. 1920-1940

Trappist Monastery in Hakodate, Hokkaido, Japan, ca. 1920-1940. More photographs of the Trappists’ community are available at the International Mission Photography Archive, ca. 1860-1960.

Portrait of Sr. Marianna Akashi

Portrait of Sr. Marianna Akashi

Miss Shizuka Akashi – The Early Years

Shizuka Akashi was born on September 25, 1899 in Sandomari village (now Rumoi), Hokkaido, Japan. She was the daughter of Hisao and Kiku (Sekine) Akashi. She had several brothers and was her parents’ only daughter.

As a young girl, Shizuka attended school in Karafuto Prefecture or South Sakhalin. Sakhalin Island lies just north of Hokkaido. Its southern half was officially colonized by the Japanese Empire following the Russo-Japanese War in 1905.

For high school, Shizuka returned to Hokkaido and went south to Hakodate. This is most likely where she encountered the Trappistine Sisters for the first time. Their order clearly made an impression on her, as she eventually joined their community.

Our Lady of the Angels Trappistine Abbey was established in Hakodate, Japan in 1898 and was Japan’s first contemplative order for women. While I was unable to discover exactly when she entered the Trappist Sisters’ novitiate, she must have finished high school before moving to this new chapter of her life.

Shizuka professed as a Trappist Sister and became Sr. Marianna before she encountered the Maryknoll Sisters.

(You can find more photographs of the Trappist Monastery taken by Maryknoll Fathers & Brothers at the International Mission Photography Archive, ca. 1860-1960.)

Meet Me in Los Angeles

We next find Sr. Marianna missioned in Los Angeles, working with other Trappist Sisters to improve the lives of immigrant Japanese families. The Sisters worked here under the direction of Fr. Albert Breton, a priest from the Paris Foreign Mission Society. Sr. Marianna would most likely have been involved with the Japanese Children’s Home (an orphanage) and/or the budding community’s Kindergarten. A portrait of Sr. Marianna from 1920 labels her as the rector of her community, a heavy responsibility to carry for a 20 year old!

The Maryknoll Sisters were invited to take over the work of Fr. Breton’s Japanese Community, and they accepted. In June 1921, responsibilities were slowly transferred from the outgoing Sisters to their Maryknoll counterparts. Before the end of June, Fr. Breton and the Sisters had moved on, with the exception of Sr. Marianna. She remained in the United States and, on June 13, 1921, became a Maryknoll Sister.

Sr. Marianna, Japanese Teacher

Most Maryknoll Sisters were not fluent in Japanese when they arrived on the West Coast to serve their new, primarily Japanese communities. Sr. Marianna was an invaluable resource as a native speaker for both the Maryknoll Sisters and her Japanese students. She was instrumental in helping Sisters and Japanese parents navigate cultural differences while providing the best opportunities for their children. Her mission assignments focused on her strength as a Japanese Teacher for elementary school students.

Sr. Marianna Akashi, 1920. The back of this photo labels her as community rector.

Sr. Marianna Akashi, 1920. The back of this photo labels her as a rector.

Maryknoll School's teaching staff, Seattle, WA. ca. 1930-1933

Maryknoll School’s teaching staff, Seattle, WA. ca. 1930-1933

Teachers and students of St. Francis Xavier School, Los Angeles, CA. January 1940.

St. Francis Xavier School, Los Angeles, CA. January 1940.

1922 – 1930: Japanese Children’s Home, Los Angeles, CA

Sister’s mission assignment here focused on work with orphaned children. She was part of a Sisters’ team dedicated to raising and educating Japanese youth in a Catholic environment. Sr. Marianna also taught classes at Maryknoll’s school during the day. She earned her teacher’s certificate from the California Department of Education in 1923; a credential she continued to put to good use throughout her life.


1930 – 1935: Maryknoll School, Seattle, WA

In 1930, Sister was reassigned to another parochial school. Maryknoll’s Seattle school educated Japanese children from Kindergarten through 3rd grade, and was staffed by Maryknoll Sisters, Maryknoll Fathers, and lay teachers. Sr. Marianna worked alongside Mrs. Nakagawa, mother of Sr. Stephanie Nakagawa, during her time here.


1938 – 1942: St. Francis Xavier School, Los Angeles, CA

After a break from teaching, Sr. Marianna returned to Los Angeles. The thriving St. Francis Xavier School needed additional staff to support its continued growth. St. Francis Xavier School continues to serve its Kindergarten through 8th grade students within the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.


Can you find Sr. Marianna in this school photo from 1940?

Other Maryknoll Sisters featured in this photograph:

Sr. Imelda Marie Salzbach, Sr. Theodora Koehler, Sr. Martina Bridgeman, Sr. Pauline Murphy, and Sr. Rosaire Greaney.

Home Sweet Home

In the early 1900’s, missioners would not expect to return home while they were missioned internationally. Special exceptions were occasionally made, however. Concerns over Sr. Marianna’s health led Mother Mary Joseph to give her special dispensation to return home. Sr. Marianna’s brothers paid for her travel costs, and she gratefully returned to Japan in October 1935.

Her family settled her in a small apartment in Otsu City, home to two of her brothers, not far from the home of one brother, his wife and their three boys. (Unfortunately, these supportive family members remain unidentified as Sr. Marianna’s letters to Mother Mary Joseph never mention them by name.) Another brother, Dr. Akashi, visited occasionally to provide medical advice and check on her progress.

Sister was never far from Maryknoll throughout this period in her life. Maryknoll Fathers were missioned at a church down the street from her apartment. She was visited by Fr. Patrick J. Byrne and Fr. Everett F. Briggs frequently throughout her recovery. With the support of her family and Maryknoll missioners, she became well enough to return to mission in Los Angeles, CA by 1938.

Photographic postcard of "St. Mary's of The Lake, Otsu, Japan." ca. 1920-1940

St. Mary’s of The Lake, Otsu, Japan. ca. 1920-1940

Headstone of Sr. Marianna Akashi

Headstone of Sr. Marianna Akashi

Maryknoll, My Maryknoll

Sr. Marianna’s renewed health only lasted for five years. In 1942, Sr. Marianna was recalled from Los Angeles to the Motherhouse. Due to increasing health concerns, she underwent surgery in September 1944. The surgery was not as successful as hoped and, on December 29, 1944, Sister died in the Motherhouse Infirmary.

Sr. Marianna never applied for U.S. citizenship; she lived and died as a Japanese citizen. She was buried in the Maryknoll Fathers & Brothers Cemetery where she continues to rest in peace.

Our Lives Carry Meaning Beyond Death

Sr. Marianna continued to be a source of inspiration to her family members, particularly her brother, Dr. Stephen Kamon Akashi. In life, she urged him to participate in local welfare work as part of his Catholic practice. Dr. Akashi and his wife became Third Order Franciscans, and worked collaboratively over the course of several years to establish a medical college in Kawasaki, Japan. Their work came to fruition in 1971, almost 27 years after Sr. Marianna’s death. The college was named St. Marianna University School of Medicine in honor of her. St. Marianna University continues to provide a Christian atmosphere for its students, and is currently affiliated with four area hospitals and one clinic.

Interested in learning more about Maryknoll?

You can contact the Archives at:

Maryknoll Mission Archives
PO Box 305, Maryknoll, New York 10545
Phone: 914-941-7636
Office hours: 8:30 am-4:00 pm Monday-Friday


Bishop Patrick J. Byrne, MM. Maryknoll Mission Archives. (2020, June 29).

Cairns, M. (2023, March 20). Fr. Thomas A. Barry – life and legacy in Japan. Maryknoll Mission Archives.

Catholic Foreign Mission Society of America. (n.d.). International Mission Photography Archives, ca. 1860-1960. University of Southern California Libraries.

Father Thomas A. Barry, MM. Maryknoll Mission Archives. (2014, April 16).

Mother Mary Joseph Rogers. Maryknoll Mission Archives. (2019, July 25).

Sister Helen Mary Murphy, MM. Maryknoll Mission Archives. (2014, April 30).

Sister Imelda Marie Salzback, MM. Maryknoll Mission Archives. (2021, April 19).

Sister Marianna Akashi, MM. Maryknoll Mission Archives. (2019, July 16).

Sister Marie Rosaire Greaney, MM. Maryknoll Mission Archives. (2014, April 22).

Sister Mary Martina Bridgeman, MM. Maryknoll Mission Archives. (2014, April 14).

Sister Stephanie Nakagawa, MM. Maryknoll Mission Archives. (2016, October).

Sister Theodora Koehler, MM. Maryknoll Mission Archives. (2014, April 29).

St. Francis Xavier School. (2024).

St Marianna University School of Medicine. Times Higher Education (THE). (2024).

Times West Virginian. (2006, December 23). Obituary of Rev. Everett F. Briggs. Times West Virginian Obituaries.

Wikimedia Foundation. (2023, November 15). Albert Breton. Wikipedia.

Wikimedia Foundation. (2023, June 23). Rumoi, Hokkaido. Wikipedia.,_Hokkaido

Wikimedia Foundation. (2024, January 8). Karafuto Prefecture. Wikipedia.

Wikimedia Foundation. (2024, January 28). Hakodate. Wikipedia.

Wikimedia Foundation. (2024, January 28). Our lady of the angels trappistine abbey. Wikipedia.

(left to right) Srs. Isabel, Damien, & Marianna preparing for Palm Sunday, Japanese Children's Home, Los Angeles, CA., 1928

(left to right) Srs. Isabel, Damien, & Marianna preparing for Palm Sunday, Japanese Children’s Home, Los Angeles, CA, 1928

(left to right) Mrs. Nakagawa, Sr. Marianna Akashi, & Mrs. Omizo, Seattle, WA, ca. 1930-1935

(left to right) Mrs. Nakagawa, Sr. Marianna Akashi, & Mrs. Omizo, Seattle, WA, ca. 1930-1935

Mother Mary Joseph Rogers at her desk writing, ca. 1946

Mother Mary Joseph Rogers at her desk writing, ca. 1946. Mother Mary Joseph and Sr. Marianna were frequent correspondents prior to Sister’s death in 1944.